Based on the courageous comments from Harmon Killebrew regarding the end of his fight with esophageal cancer, we can assume that it is just a matter of weeks, or perhaps even days, before we lose him entirely. This is sad news for any baseball fan, but especially for those who have had the pleasure of meeting a most gracious man.
During my years at the Hall of Fame, I must have talked to Harmon three or four times. Two words describe him succinctly and accurately: consummate gentleman. Always soft-spoken and considerate with those who approached him in Cooperstown, Killebrew would rarely say anything remotely controversial and never make a derogatory remark about anyone. I suppose that made him a boring interview, but it spoke volumes about the man’s character. He just didn’t have it in him to be mean, or critical, in any way.
Not surprisingly, Harmon was never thrown out of a game during his career. He never threw his helmet in anger. If he had a temper, it was never evident, either on the ballfield or in the clubhouse. He was this kind of guy: If someone had tried to attack him with a knife, Harmon would have thanked him for being kind enough to lend him a kitchen utensil.
My favorite card of Killebrew is his 1973 Topps issue, shown here. Unlike most card photos that show hitters at the plate, this card give us a different perspective because we see the catcher in full view. From this angle, the Cleveland Indians’ catcher (I believe it’s backup receiver Jerry Moses) appears to be so close to Killebrew that he’d be charged with catcher’s interference if “Killer” took a swing at the next pitch.
It’s a great shot of Killebrew, too. He looks so balanced, so firmly entrenched in the batter’s box with those tree-trunk legs, that it would take a forklift to move him off the plate. He looks much bigger, and far more powerful, than his listed dimensions of 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds would indicate.
When I first learned about Killebrew as a young fan in the early 1970s, I was captivated by his name. Harmon Killebrew. That just seemed like a great name, especially for a slugger. Given his power and his build, I had always assumed that Killebrew was a tough, nasty ogre of a guy. With that name, and given the way that he crushed fastballs, I just figured that he had to be.
I could not have been more wrong. Just ask any Hall of Fame employee who ever encountered him, ever had a chance to talk to him. Like me, they’ll all miss seeing him at Induction Weekend.
I don’t know how much longer Harmon Killebrew has. What I do know is this: for 74 years, he’s made people feel better, just by being around him.